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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dereliction of Duty

Elected officials and public servants choose to go AWOL (absent without leave) in Wisconsin and Indiana. What a travesty? How many other Americans of all income levels can choose to go home without penalty when they do not like the cards that life deals them? How is it that elected officials go run and hide just because they are in the minority on an issue? How can the democratic process survive if rogue members of either party can simply flee their community or state holding the legislative process hostage?
Although the two current groups who are AWOL are members of the Democratic Party from both Wisconsin and Indiana, the first groups to do so were members of the Republican caucus in Texas. Regardless of party, it is simply wrong to abandon your job or to run and hide and debilitating the process by their actions.
And are we really supposed to believe those who are in hiding are really concerned about the middle class? If so, I submit they are primarily concerned by only those select few who are unionized. Did you know?
• In 2010, the union membership rate--the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union--was 11.9 percent, down from 12.3 percent a year earlier.
• The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 612,000 to 14.7 million. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.
• The union membership rate for public sector workers (36.2 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private sector workers (6.9 percent).
• Workers in education, training, and library occupations had the highest unionization rate at 37.1 percent.

If you listen to those who so vehemently argue on behalf of the unions, you would assume that all workers who are middle-class are also union members. The numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor say otherwise. Those who choose to belong to unions are the minority. And when you consider the ages of union members, interestingly the highest percentage of members are the oldest. By age, the union membership rate was highest among 55- to 64-year-old workers (15.7 percent). The lowest union membership rate occurred among those ages 16 to 24 (4.3 percent).
It is not coincidence that those who argue so passionately for keeping the collective bargaining privileges do so because it is financially and politically prudent to do so. The unions are the largest political contributors to those who have abandoned their office. Consider one of the key changes that the Wisconsin Governor is proposing – if you do not want to be in the Union and have your union dues automatically paid by the state to the union, you can choose to keep that money. Heresy I say. What about free choice?
The reason that the Democratic officials and the unions have chosen to fight these proposals so robustly at this time is because they know this is a watershed moment for their preservation. Although unions have brought about positive and needed improvements in the workplace historically (reasonable workweek, vacation pay, sick pay, safety rules and regulations, etc.), today they simply drive up the cost of doing business beyond what the marketplace can support.
And in the case of public workers who are unionized, the union contract provisions increase the cost of services to the taxpayers exponentially beyond the true cost of providing those services. And as a very appropriate cartoon in yesterdays Daily Citizen pointed out – at the negotiating table the taxpayer is left out of the negotiations.
Some in our community will take issue with my position in this column. And that is okay – it is even American for us to disagree. We are supposed to debate the issues of the day and propose laws that satisfy at least a democratically elected majority at all levels of government.
It is un-American to get mad and abandon one’s office just because one finds themselves in the minority position on an issue. The voter’s had their say when they elected the governors of Wisconsin and Indiana and in electing the Republican majorities. And in the end, the voters will ultimately have their say again when the next elections occur. Public service is an honorable endeavor and deserves that those elected to serve do so honorably.

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